Webserver Date: 22-August-2019

Bhabha’s Vision

Dr. M. R. Srinivasan
Former Chairman Atomic Energy Commission

The Department of Atomic Energy commemorated the Golden Jubliee of its founding on October 23, 2004 when the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh visited Kalpakkam. On that day, he also launched the commercial phase of India’s Fast Breeder Reactor programme. It is an opportunemoment to look back at the vision, foresight and practical wisdom of Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha, the founderof the programme.


Homi Bhabha had gone as a youngman to Cambridge University, U. K. for a tripos in the nineteen thirties and soon thereafter pursued cosmic ray research at the Cavendish Laboratory.His professors there included Lord Rutherford, P. M. A. Dirac and Wolfgang Pauli; among his colleagues were Chadwick, Cockcroft, Blackett, Wilson and others. Bhabha had comeback to India and his plans to return to Cambridge were aborted as the Second World War intervened. Bhabha then became a Professor of Theoretical Physics at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. In a letter he wrote on March 12, 1944 to the Dorabji Tata Trust, he sought their support to set up a new institute for the study of Physics. In that letter, he also foresaw the day when nuclear energy would be used to produce electricity and asserted that when that time came, India would have its own scientists and engineers to make this possible. This was more than a year before nuclear weapons were dropped by the U.S.A. on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.



In addition to being a brilliant scientist, Bhabha proved to be anastute administrator and programme manager. At forty four years of age, Bhabha was probably the youngest Secretary to a Department of the Government of India. He proposed to Jawaharlal Nehru that the Department of Atomic Energy be located at Bombay, and not Delhi, because of the benefits through linkages with good colleges and industry. The suc-cesses achieved by the Departmentof Atomic Energy and the Department of Space are in no small measure attributable to their being located close to their operational units and not being in Delhi.


Bhabha stated that for the Department of Atomic Energy to fulfil its mandate, it should not be subjected to ‘needlessly inelastic rules’. He proposed to Nehru that the DAE should have freedom to recruit its own scientific and technical staff, manage its own procurement activities and carry on the construction activities by itself. In the nineteen fifties, the Union Public Service Commission, the Directorate General of Supplies and Disposals and the Central Public Works Department were formidable institutions and all branches of the central government had to mandatorily use their services. The civil servants in Delhi agreed to this dispensation for the DAE only reluctantly and because Nehru had been persuaded by Bhabha’s arguments.


In 1955, Bhabha presided over the first United Nations Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy held in Geneva. In his presidential address, Bhabha, discussed the energy problems of India. He took note of the energy endowment of India and the demands that would arise if the large population had to have a reasonable standard of life (these days described as the quality of life). Bhabha noted the large scale use of cow dung as fuel, thus depriving the soil of biological nutrients. The country was using a large amount of fire wood as domestic fuel, thus depleting the forest cover. Coal was available mostly in Eastern India and Central India; moreover with its high ash content, for every tonne of coal transported by the railways, some 400 kg would be ash. Hydro power while being important, was monsoon dependent except in the Himalayan foot hills. Hydro carbons were limited in India and had to be set apart for the road transport sector. Thus Bhabha concluded that India should use nuclear energy for electricity production in an increasing measure. All these arguments remain valid fifty years after Bhabha made them. That India has made only a slow progress in the use of nuclear electricity is another matter.


At the second United Nations Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy held in Geneva in 1958, in a seminal paper, Bhabha and Prasad outlined the three stage nuclear power programme that India would adopt. According to the geological information then available, India had a limited amount of natural uranium while it possessed a very large resource of thorium. Natural uranium could be used as fuel in reactors that employed graphite or heavy water as moderators (substances that slow down neutrons) in the first stage. The spent fuel contained plutonium which could be used to fuel fast reactors in the second stage. If thorium is placed as a blanket material in fast reactors, then uranium - 233 is produced, which is a nuclear fuel. Uranium - 233 can then be used to fuel thorium burning reactors in the third stage. The total amount of energy available in thorium is many times the energy contained in our coal deposits.


When Bhabha proposed the three stage nuclear programme for India, there were hardly a few power reactors functioning in the world. Some of them had been dual purpose reactors producing weapon grade plutonium and power. Others were reactors scaled up from those developed to power nuclear submarines. It is remarkable that Bhabha’s thesis, so early in the game when nuclear technology was in its infancy, has stood the test of time. India recently launched work on its first 500 MW Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor at Kalpakkam, which will supply commercial electric power from a second stage reactor. Design work has progressed at BARC on the Advanced Thermal Reactor, which is a third stage reactor, and may be taken up for construction in a year or two.


India’s first nuclear research reactor, Apsara, started functioning in August 1956. In less than ten years, Bhabha died in an aircrash of an Air India plane on Mont Blanc in January 1966. Within that short period of less than a decade, Bhabha drew up plans for a wide range of activities to give to the country comprehensive nuclear capabilities. Even as work was in progress on Apsara, which used enriched uranium as fuel, work was taken up on the construction of a heavy water research reactor using natural uranium as fuel, in co-operation with Canada. This was followed up by another heavy water research reactor of low power, Zerlina for studies in the physics of heavy water reactors (built on our own).


Bhabha was very keen to demonstrate early the economic viability of nuclear power in the Indian power systems. Thus work was started on the Tarapur Atomic Power Station, in co-operation with U.S.A. But to realise the three stage nuclear programme, it was essential that India built natural uranium nuclear power units. Thus along with the start of work on Tarapur, work was commenced on the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station with Canadian co-operation. But Bhabha had realised the necessity of India acquiring the capability to design and built nuclear power units on its own. So as early as 1965, some months before his untimely death he resolved that the third atomic power station, to be built at Kalpakkam, would be a total Indian venture. For the first unit of RAPS, certain key nuclear components were partially fabricated in Indian shops at BHEL, Bhopal, Larsen & Tourbo, Powai and Walchandnagar Industries. Thus Indian industry was progressively brought into making nuclear components in India.


For our very first atomic power station at Tarapur, the control and instrumentation panels were made at BARC, using imported components. For the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station, the Indian contribution to instrumentation and control was substantial. Bhabha had by then decided to set up the Electronics Corporation of India Ltd. at Hyderabad. The range of products included nuclear and industrial process instrumentation, electronic components, printed circuit boards, television sets and items required for defence applications. Similarly, the Nuclear Fuel Complex, located at Hyderabad adjacent to ECIL, was foreseen as an integrated nuclear fuel facility to produce fuel for different reactors starting from the raw material stage. The technologies required for ECIL and NFC had in the meantime, been developed at BARC and transferred along with the key personnel.


An essential material necessary to start the first stage nuclear programme was heavy water. Realising this, Bhabha persuaded the public sector Fertilizer Corporation of India to incorporate a heavy water production unit in the Nangal Fertilizer Plant, using an electrolytic process for hydrogen production. Thus by early nineteen sixties, India started producing heavy water - one of a small number of countries to do so. Efforts were taken up thereafter to look at alternative methods of producing heavy water in larger quantities and a judicious choice of two basic processes was persued. A great deal of process development was taken up at BARC.


A crucial initiative Bhabha took the construction of a plant at Trombay for separating plutonium from irradiated fuel. This plant was completed in 1965 and dedicated to the nation by Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in January 1965. Reprocessing, as this fuel cycle step is called, is crucial to the eventual realisation of the three stage nuclear programme. In 1965, there were less than half a dozen countries extracting plutonium from spent fuel.


Not discussed above are the planning initiatives to set up a whole family of laboratories at Trombay. These included the laboratories in the disciplines of physics, chemistry and biology as relevant to the nuclear programme and the applied areas such as rnetallurgy, chemical engineering, reactor engineering, electronics, and so forth. Special laboratories for radio-chemical work involving plutonium and other such elements and for radioactive isotopes were set up. Bhabha involved himself not only in determining the scientific programmes in consultation with his colleagues but took special interest in the architectural and structural designs of the buildings. Thus the radio-chemical laboratory was architected by the well known U.S. architect who designed the Lincoln Centre in Delhi. It incorporated some elements of Mughal architecture, namely an inner courtyard with fountains, which were actually functional for cooling the water of the air-conditioning units. Two leading Italian architects helped Bhabha in preparing the master plan for the Trombay South Site. The landscaping was entirely Bhabha’s own creation; he used to personally spend many hours on the drawing board to arrive at the best designs. Bhabha also selected paintings from modern Indian artists to embellish the elegent buildings.


The diverse peaceful applications of nuclear radiations for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes, use of irradiation to produce beneficial mutants of plant species and use of radio istopes in industry, received Bhabha’s attention. All these activities were launched during Bhabha’s steward ship of the programme. In 1962, the Tata Memorial Centre comprising the earlier Tata Memorial Hospital, run by a Tata Trust, and the Cancer Research Institute became a grant-in-aid institution of the Department of Atomic Energy. This change gave the TMC secure and continuing funding and enabled it to become the leading facility for treatment of cancer in India.


A forward-looking decision Bhabha took was to start the Atomic Energy Training School in 1957 where young graduates in science and engineering are imparted a one year multidisciplinary training before being assigned to work in a particular part of the programme. This school has over the years supplied several thousand scientists and engineers who have carried forward the programme in all its diversity. The present Chairmen of the Atomic Energy Commission and the Space Commission are products of this training school. In 1954, there would have been less then 40 persons in the programme; now that number exceeds 40,000.


In addition to all these activities in the atomic energy field, Bhabha directed the work of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. He launched the work on the large parabolic radio-telescope at Ootacommund, nurtured the programmes in mathematics and molecular biology, apart from building up world class research teams in theoretical physics, cosmic ray physics, computers and so forth. Bhabha also chaired with distinction the Electronics Committee which prepared a road map for electronics development in India from its relatively primitive state in the nineteen sixties.


In being able to launch such wide ranging activities in a high technology field where knowledge and expertise were closely guarded by the advanced countries, Bhabha received the understanding and unwavering support of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru for over a decade. Indira Gandhi on assuming the office of Prime Minister, offered Bhabha a cabinet ministership. But Bhabha convinced her that he could be of greater help to the country by continuing to be Chainnan AEC, though fate willed otherwise. It is doubtful if the atomic energy programme would have progressed in the manner it did if Bhabha did not get the support that Nehru extended. It is however certain that the Indian atomic energy programme would not have grown as it has done without the vision and leadership of Homi Jehangir Bhabha.


Micronization of Natural Graphite Powder


Graphite powder in micron size range is one of the basic requirements for making its colloidal suspension in aqueous or organic medium. To improve upon the functional properties of suspension, it is desirable to have accurate and reproducible size distribution of graphite powder. Grinding of graphite powder in narrow range is thus an important unit operation. Commercially available graphite powder has average particle size in the range of 8 to 10 µm. Literature survey on the grinding of graphite indicated that the grinding below 10 microns is difficult and is further adversely affected by the presence of absorbed moisture ororganic matter. The reason for difficulty in grinding of graphite is mainly attributed to its hexagonal layered crystal structure. During grinding, most of the energy is consumed incausing slip in the layers rather than fracturing the particles. Commercially available grinding equipment including high energy mills have not been able to generate powder down to 2.0µm size in wet or dry condition.


BARC has developed a novel technique for efficient grinding of natural graphite.


Applications of Micronised Natural Graphite Powder


Major application of micron size natural graphite powder is in the production of colloidal suspensions for use in metal forming industry.




Simple Process and related equipment design, low capital and maintenance cost are the salient features of this process. The wear part of this process is the grinding media. The grinding media used is commercially available in the local market. Besides the simplicity, another most important feature of this process is the low specific energy consumption to produce powder in the desired size range. The process parameters and its related equipment design permits scaling up of its production to commercial scale. The simple design of grinding mill permits easy and quick dismantling for cleaning, thus facilitating change of operation from one material powder to another.


This mill can grind 2.75 kg of natural graphite to less than 2 µm in 12 hours. Energy Consumption per batch is 40 kwh.


Raw Materials


All the raw materials are produced within the country and are available in local market.


For details contact :


Head, Technology Transfer & Collaboration Division,
BARC, Trombay, Mumbai - 400 085
Tel : 091-022-25505337/25593897
Fax : 091-022-25505151